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Monday, Jul. 30, 2007

Copy Perspective Monday: #5, Style vs. Substance

By Jeff Sexton
July 30th, 2007

style and substance togetherPerspective #5* really isn’t an “either/or” proposition so much as it is a continuum; not a question of one-or-the-other but of which one will dominate, and to what degree.

Here are some things to consider:

1) Persuasive copy should always have style.

Remember how even intellectual ads should affect emotions? Well, regardless of how substantive the message, you need to use drama as an essential part of the copy.

The question isn’t whether to use stylistic elements to make your points persuasive — you always should (read Made to Stick if you don’t believe me) — but whether Style will be a key selling-point.

2) Can you get away with featuring style as a (primary) selling-point?

Notice that I wrote “a selling-point,” not “the selling-point”. Unless you’re dealing with fashion items — e.g., clothing, shoes — style can’t be the selling point. But it had better be a selling-point, if not a primary one.

Take the Mini Cooper for example; a car that’s had smashing success based primarily on a style-heavy advertising and marketing campaign.

Yet style wasn’t a choice forced onto the product by its advertising. Style was a copy/advertising choice made possible by the nature of the product. The Mini is, and was, an icon of style and design. This is a main selling-point for a car, simply because it’s wildly more stylish than anything else in the low-$20k price class.

Given a higher price bracket, a style-heavy advertising message would be disastrous, as exemplified by Nissan’s early 90’s GI Joe/Barbie ad for the 300ZX.

The ad was a hit, but sales of the car disappointed. At $33k (USD), the car would be roughly equivalent to $50k in 2007 dollars. Style and performance aren’t really competitive advantages at $50k; they’re more like prerequisites for entering the price category. And advertising a prerequisite in lieu of a value proposition is never a good idea.

Again, a couple of questions remain: Can you get away with going for style over substance in your messaging? Will the product support such a choice?

3) Use style-heavy copy and messaging to convey intangible (or sensory) qualities.

In Call to Action, Bryan and Jeffrey take on the e-commerce myth that you can’t sell items on the Web that you need to smell, touch, or taste to appreciate — the old, “if you can’t smell it, you can’t sell it” adage.

In other words, use evocative language to help your customers create vivid mental images of themselves enjoying the benefits of your product/service.

This is where style-heavy copy and creative really shine. Here’s an example from the J. Peterman site:

I was browsing in a Paris antique shop one winter afternoon when a fitted leather train case caught my eye.

It contained silver-handled brushes, boot hooks, a straight razor, several silver-stoppered glass bottles…

One bottle was different. Encased in yew-wood, with a handwritten date: 1903.

Inside the bottle, there was still the faint, intriguing aroma of a gentleman’s cologne. A “prescription” cologne, custom-made for a rich traveler a century ago.

Curiosity was eating at me

I bought the case (the price was shocking) and sent the bottle to a laboratory for analysis. They broke down the residue by gas chromatography. Identified its fingerprint through spectro-photometry.

The report said: an “old woody fougère.” Clean citrus notes, bergamot, “green notes.” The middle notes: clary sage…cardamom. The dry-down: leather notes, smoky labdanum…elemi, tabac, frankincense.

The detective work was impressive.

So is the thing itself.

Women like the way it smells on a man. Like a symphony that begins loudly, then soon slides into subtle, entangling developments that grow on them.

Or so I’ve been told.

The syle of the copy creates the atmosphere for the right images and associations to flourish, and the intense sensory descriptions help the reader to almost smell the sophistication of the product. The website isn’t so great, but the copy makes all the difference.

Another fine example is this Honda Civic ad that uses style-heavy creative in an entirely different fashion than the Mini print campaign.

Remember that the Civic already “owns” substance in the mind of the consumer, so they can afford a style-heavy ad or two — especially one that evokes the physical sensation of driving their new car. But since the whole put-the-audience-in-the-driver’s-seat approach has been done to death, this ad uses a stylistic and creative twist to capture the audience’s attention and imagination. Viewers are struck by the chorus’s ability to reproduce the actual sounds, causing them to focus on the very sensations the ad hopes to convey.

It’s audible farfugnugen, baby! (Way better than “Born from jets“.)

That’s what I mean by using style-based messaging as a tactical method for conveying intangible, sensory qualities.

So, where on the style/substance continuum is your copy?

[*Editor's note: Fans of Copy Perspective Monday may notice that the would-be final installment, #6, came before #5. To understand the madness to his method -- or is that the other way around? -- stay tuned next week as Jeff Sexton, Future Now copywriting instructor and Persuasion Architect, guides us through Copy Perspective #4, "Time vs. Money" (an all-time favorite). You can also read more articles from Jeff at his personal blog]

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Comments (9)

  1. [...] Copywriting [...]

  2. [...] week's article on Style vs. Substance, kept driving me back to one question: "What is [...]

  3. [...] What’s more important when it comes to copy… style or substance? [...]

  4. [...] if this copy still doesn't wow you, realize that we now have to go back and apply emotion and style. Stay tuned for that on my next [...]

  5. [...] my article on style vs. substance, I argue that, while non-substantive fashion items — e.g., clothing, shoes — can be sold on [...]

  6. [...] Next time you choose a face to appear on a web page or an ad stop to consider where it draws visitors eyes. Ask yourself, does the image draw more attention to itself than to your persuasive message? [...]

  7. [...] Style vs. Substance — Mr. Blackwell would be a great SEO, as long as he wasn’t a blackhat (linking to is a first for the Naked SEO) GrokDotCom [...]

  8. [...] “Style vs. Substance” — [...]

  9. [...] vs. Money” — GrokDotCom 12.) “What is Substance?” — GrokDotCom 13.) “Style vs. Substance” — GrokDotCom 14.) “Pain vs. Gain” — GrokDotCom 15.) “Intellect vs. [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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